On Monday, June 10th, Mourinho will have his introductory press conference at Stamford Bridge. Since Mourinho last left the club in September 2007, seven Chelsea managers have been introduced in the pressroom at the Bridge, each cowering in his own way under the weight of Mourinho’s legacy and achievements.
Andre Villas-Boas, for instance, was lobbed a question in his first press conference about whether he too, was a Special One. Villas-Boas’ answer, that he was “The Group One”, was neither funny nor memorable, missing the mark just like the rest of his tenure at Chelsea.
Each Chelsea manager since Mourinho, fairly or not, has been judged against the Portuguese’s unmatchable era of dominance and panache. In fact, the Blues never really recovered from the Mourinho era – he left too soon, with too much left to give the club. Everyone – Mourinho, the players, the owner, and the fans, wanted more. The Return was a long-time coming, and it does feel like Mourinho is coming home after a long time away.
Mourinho is sure to be set up with an opportunity to expound on the Special One remark that defined his managerial career on June 10th, and can set the tone for his second stint at Chelsea with a wit and tongue that reel in headlines with ease and authority.
The tone looks set to be redemption for Mourinho, after a horrifying end to his reign at Real Madrid. Real was a blow to the ego of a man whose ego cannot be deflated. Everything that made Mourinho special at Porto, Chelsea, and Inter backfired at Real. The line that Mourinho toed so often in his first three jobs, he crossed in Spain, and the dressing room that was his haven in his first three jobs was a hellish place at the Santiago Bernabeau.
Things didn’t work at Real Madrid because Mourinho lost his chief asset, the ability to motivate like no other manager in the game. Given players that would rather run him through a wall than run through a wall for him, Mourinho was a fairly average manager.
That shouldn’t be a problem at Chelsea. Mourinho spoke many times at the end of his tenure at Real about “being where people love him”, and that’s important for Mourinho, because he needs players and his bosses to buy in 100 percent to what he’s selling. Chelsea’s squad, which is mostly made up of young players, is looking forward to managerial stability, and in awe of Mourinho’s reputation worldwide, and at Chelsea, where his name is godly.
Chelsea need Mourinho now more than ever. By transitioning from club hero Robbie Di Matteo to the reviled Rafa Benitez, it felt like Chelsea sold their soul last season. It has been said that Roman Abramovich underestimated the extent and fervor of the fan’s backlash against Benitez, and the only way to get the fans back onside was making the move from Benitez to Mourinho – possibly the only man to ever manage Chelsea more beloved that Di Matteo.
Chelsea also desperately need direction. They need swagger, and they need to be united. The Blues have talent and money, but they don’t have cohesiveness, or a clear team identity. Mourinho’s job will be to change that. Chelsea need to stiffen up defensively, and while Abramovich may not have loved the style, the Blues conquered England with a powerful side that counter-attacked from back to front.
It will be interesting to see how Mourinho shapes his team – how will the three amigos of Oscar, Mata, and Hazard fit into a counter-attacking side? It will also be interesting to see who Mourinho buys, but Chelsea will have faith in their man either way.
One managerial failure – and let’s not forget, Mourinho secured a league title, a Copa Del Ray and Real Madrid’s highest Champions League finishes in a decade – isn’t the rule. It’s the exception.
Chelsea and Mourinho were made for each others’ style. Mourinho unites his teams under fire – he tried to create non-existent fire at Real, the draining rivalry with Barcelona, for instance, and it backfired. At Chelsea, Mourinho won’t have to go far for strife. The Blues are still very much a disliked club, and Mourinho has a knack for ticking people off regardless.
Since so much of Mourinho’s appointment is about soul, it makes sense that the biggest asset the new manager could infuse Chelsea with is soul, or heart, or any of the qualities that saw the worst Chelsea team under Abramovich win the Champions League under Di Matteo in 2012. Those qualities were the difference between the Champions League crown in 2012, and the Europa League title in 2013.
Mourinho will walk into a dressing room where Frank Lampard sings his praises and Michael Essian calls him daddy. The unbreakable emotional connection with players, and the man-management and mind-games that have made the legend of Mourinho should be easy to work back in London.
It will take time for Mourinho to turn Chelsea into the juggernaut it was during his first spell at Stamford Bridge – English football is much richer and more competitive at the top these days – but it shouldn’t take any time for Chelsea to start competing for the league and European titles again. Chelsea has the talent, with more on the way, and Mourinho has the spell-binding intangibles.
Jose Mourinho is the new Chelsea manager today because all sides involved recognized things were never better than they were from 2004-2007. Mourinho wants to be in a place where people love him, the fans want a manager who loves them, especially after Benitez, and the owner wants to win. It’s a match made in heaven. For a few years, anyway.